March 16, 2011

Southern Cameroons: An Overview of the Human Rights Situation for the Anglophone Community

UNPO and the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) organised a conference to promote the restoration of the autonomous status of Southern Cameroons and to return to the federation created in the 1960

Introduction

Southern Cameroons was part of the British Mandate Territory of the Cameroons in West Africa until independence in 1961 when it formed a federation with the French-speaking Republic of Cameroon, which had gained independence one year earlier. A decade later this federation was turned into a unitary state; the Southern Cameroons lost its autonomy and was instead parted into two different provinces, the Southwest and the Northwest provinces. This gave rise to movements calling for increased autonomy for the Southern Cameroons, calls that eventually resulted in the 1993 All Anglophone Conference that gathered these different organizations. The aim of the conference was to restore the autonomous status of Southern Cameroons and to return to the federation created in the 1960s. The Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) was formed to work towards this goal.

Claims for Self-Determination

The main argument put forward by the SCNC supporting the claims for increased self-determination is that Southern Cameroons and the Republic of Cameroon were never a single country. They were both colonized by Germany before they became British and French respectively, but that they were once colonized by the same country does not mean that they share an identity. In fact, the two Cameroons have inherited not only languages but judicial systems from their respective colonial powers: a common law system in Southern Cameroons and a civil law system in the Republic of Cameroon. According to the Article 1 of the UN Charter on the right to self-determination, SCNC argues that the Southern Cameroonian people were not given this right. The plebiscite in 1960 never offered the choice of independence but the two options were to unite with either the French Cameroon or with Nigeria. Building on international law, Southern Cameroonians must be given the chance to exert their right to self-determination and autonomy. 

Human Rights Violations

The Republic of Cameroon is not a free or democratic country. President Biya came to power in 1982 and has since been re-elected in votes condemned by international observers, his long rule has been marked by corruption and cronyism. In 2008 protests against Biya resulted in 100 deaths and up to 1500 arrests. The SCNC is banned and its meetings are often disrupted, a sign of the lack of freedom of assembly in the country. Political activists from SCNC and other parties have repeatedly been detained and attacked; in 2003 a SCNC leader was shot in the street and later died in hospital. Arbitrary arrests and politically motivated trials are common and conditions in the overcrowded prisons are poor, even life-threatening in some cases. Due to denied access to medical aid and the harsh conditions, deaths in prisons are not unusual. In eight months in 2003 over 70 prisoners died in the Douala central prison alone. 

The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) has expressed grave concerns regarding conditions in prisons and the systematic use of torture by the police and security forces. The right to free and fair trials is further circumvented by the difficulties for English-speaking Cameroonians to receive treatment in their own language as well as to the denied access to legal counsel. Freedom of expression and of media is not upheld; journalists and human rights activists are persecuted and detained, newspapers and TV channels shut down. Homosexuality is criminal, and women’s rights are seriously violated with gender based violence and weak property rights for women. Cameroon is further a transit country for trafficking of children, and slavery has been reported in the northern parts of the country. 

Marginalization of the Anglophone Community 

In the 1950s Southern Cameroons was the first country in Africa to have a democratically elected government and democratic transfer of governmental power. Southern Cameroons thus has a democratic history and a history of regional autonomy from the 1960s to build on. This autonomy was however taken from the Southern Cameroons in the 1970s and today it has no more autonomy than other Cameroonian provinces. Governors are appointed by presidential decree, and they are all from the Francophone part of the republic. 

The Anglophone community has been subject to widespread cultural assimilation policies, with education and judicial system being French-speaking. With a majority of lawyers being educated in French universities on civil law, possibilities for the Anglophone community to receive a trial in their own language and in a judicial system they know are limited. Detainees from Southern Cameroons are denied interpretation and interrogated in French even though they do not speak the language. Likewise detainees are forced to sign transcripts and statements in French, without access to a translation. Even though equal rights are granted by the constitution the implementation of these policies is slow and the administration today is not bilingual. Equal treatment on the labour market and in schools, as well as equal representation and access to media is not fully implemented, which leaves the Anglophone population marginalized and even more vulnerable to human rights violations than the French-speaking part of the population. Those who dare work for strengthened rights for the Southern Cameroonians face severe repression. 

In 2009 the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights condemned discrimination of the Anglophone community in Cameroon after a six year long case brought to it by the SCNC and it further acknowledged the SCNC’s claim that the Southern Cameroons constitute a people. It also recommended the government and the SCNC to hold constructive talks and in which the SCNC have taken the initiative.  But overtures to the Paul Boya administration have not been acknowledged and no response received. 

 

Conclusion 

According to international law all peoples have the right to self-determination, in the case of Southern Cameroons this right has however been neglected. The situation for the Anglophone community in the Republic of Cameroon is serious; discrimination on the basis of language has led to a marginalization of the English-speaking population and this discrimination only adds to the human rights violations facing all citizens in the Republic of Cameroon. In order to begin a constructive dialogue on increased self-determination for Southern Cameroon political activists must be allowed to express their views without the risk of being detained and arbitrarily sentenced in a trial where they are denied access to interpretation and legal counsel.  There is a pressing need for international support to assist in the beginnings of constructive dialogue between actors such as the SCNC and the government if long repressed tensions are to be addressed in a timely and nonviolent way. 

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About UNPO

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The UNPO is an international, nonviolent, and democratic membership organisation established in 1991. Its members are indigenous peoples, minorities, and territories who have joined to protect and promote their human rights through nonviolent solutions. 

Contact information

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Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization

Avenue Louise 52, B-1050, Brussels, Belgium

Telephone: +32(0)251 31459

Fax: +32(0)251 31495

unpo.brussels [at] unpo.org

www.unpo.org

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